Europe Faces Controversy and Protests around Islamic Veil Bans

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Firmly rooted in Islamic culture, the hijab has been a sacred garment for Muslim females. Recently, however, many European countries have rethought whether the headscarf should be allowed.

As of now, eight members of the European Union (EU) have passed laws prohibiting some form of religious wear by Muslim women. Of those nations, six have some level of a ban on the headscarf or face veil. Furthermore, the European Court of Justice, the EU’s highest court, recently announced that a workplace ban on headscarves is legal. Thus, many private companies and other institutions have set up limitations on Muslim wear, furthering the religious tensions within many nations.

Bans across Europe

France, a country known for its prominent Muslim population, has set up restrictions over the years. The use of a headscarf in France has been a controversial topic as early as 1989, when that year’s “Scarf Affair” law stated that hijabs would no longer be welcomed in public schools as a way to maintain national secularity. In 2004, the Law of Secularity and Conspicuous Religious Symbols in Schools was passed, banning all religious symbols at schools. While the law was meant to target all religions, it has in effect targeted Muslims more than other religious groups. More recently, France has also dramatically furthered their secular policy, becoming the first country in Europe to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places.

France hasn’t been the only country to implement harsh religious bans. In 2011, Belgium passed a law similar to France, banning the full face Muslim veil. While this ruling was under much controversy, it was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, which stated that the law did not violate human rights. Other major European countries that have maintained some sort of ban on Islamic religious wear include Denmark, Italy, Bulgaria, and The Netherlands.

Protests Over Bans

In 2018, hundreds in Copenhagen, Denmark, came to protest the nation’s ban on face veils in public, decrying that the government was infringing on a women’s right to dress as they wish. The protests included both Muslim and non-Muslim Danes. Many felt as though the new legislation enacted was discriminatory towards the Muslims of the country, even with the generic wording of the text.

“If the intention of this law was to protect women’s rights, it fails abjectly,” Fotis Fillipou, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Europe said. Many across the Danish nation felt as though the law was meant to further sexist and anti-immigrant sentiments, as Islamophobia had reached an all-time peak in Europe.

More recently, in May 2020, thousands took to the streets to protest a constitutional court ruling in Belgium that banned religious symbols, including Islamic wear, in universities. The protests were filled largely with young women, including those who didn’t have Islamic wear. These women showed support and solidarity for their peers that did wear hijabs.

The protesters at the events carried signs at the events with slogans such as, “Take your hands off my headscarf”, “Enough”, and “My Rights”. The movement gained steam on social media, as many denounced the court’s ruling. Activists that are part of the movement argue that the ruling could negatively harm the education of Muslim women, as some will be forced to drop out if they are obligated to take off their hijab.

Impact of Bans

A study done by the Washington Post on the 2004 French ban shows that the bans placed on Islamic clothing have actually had a negative effect on Muslim women. According to the study, the restrictions placed on hijabs in public schools have hampered with the integration, both social and economic, of Muslim women. Additionally, while a gap in educational attainment between Muslim women and non-Muslim women has existed prior to the ban, the restrictions have only exacerbated the disparity. The study found that the difference in secondary school attainment levels doubled between both of these groups after the ban.

One of the primary reasons for this was that many Muslim students dropped out because bans on religious wear restricted their ability to simultaneously pursue their religious and educational obligations. These restrictions on Islamic wear not only affected their education but also rippled into their work environment. Due to the significant divide in educational fulfillment, the ban has increased the employment gap between Muslim and non-Muslim women by a third, with the divide in labor force participation increasing by half.

Another major effect of the ban in France is that Muslim women have faced increased discrimination. The public debate that came along with the passage of the bill further alienated Muslim women from the rest of their community. The Washington Post study also depicted the long term repercussions of a surge in prejudice, noting that it placed Muslim girls under mental pressure and disrupted their ability to perform in school. The restrictions may have also led to an increase in hate crimes towards Muslims in Europe. In 2017, the EU Minorities and Discrimination Survey reported that one in three Muslims faced discrimination in the last 12 months, with 27 percent of those being the victim of a hate crime.

Overall, the restrictions put on Islamic wear have negatively impacted Muslim women in many facets, resulting in the rise of a disparity in education and the workplace alongside a surge in hate crimes over the years.

Through Teen Lenses: How do you feel about the rise of restrictions of Islamic wear across Europe? How do you think it will impact Muslim women on a day to day basis?

“The Hijab, like all other garments with overt religious symbolism, helps connect Islamic females with their faith. In a continent like Europe where diversity is ubiquitous, these restrictions are not only deeply discriminatory, but are also dangerous to the sense of belonging that Muslims feel. The mere fact that restrictions are rising seems almost nonsensical and asinine as they promote already escalating mass hysteria and Islamophobia against everyday, common Muslims. To put it simply, these restrictions are a sad and pathetic excuse for particular races to continue to hide behind their veil of ignorance and remain blind to religious self-expression.These restrictions will inevitably plague and hurt the experiences of Islamic women in Europe. From minor aggressions at the grocery stores to full on hate crimes, these restrictions will only fuel anti-Muslim sentiment. It’s sad that in a world as diverse as ours that a continent like Europe cannot even distinguish and separate basic religious self-expression from radical terrorism” Nikhil Piska, 21, Rising Senior at University of California – Berkeley, Frankfurt, Illinois
“I feel that the rise of restrictions on Islamic wear across Europe to be unfair to Muslim women. They are putting a restriction on cultural attire. This attire is a part of Muslim faith and to not be able to openly express their culture is wrong. Controlling what people can and can not wear is oppressive. Europe is a country filled with numerous cultures bringing in people from all over the world, one of the most diverse in the world. With that said, restricting one particular culture is unethical and negatively impacts the followers of that religion. These restrictions are only put in play due to a stereotype that dehumanizes those of the Islamic belief. In today’s world it is sad to see these kinds of restrictions being allowed. I think these restrictions will cause Muslim women to lose their sense of identity. It’s withholding Muslim women to express themselves all due to a negative stereotype that antagonizes Muslims on a daily basis. As a society we are moving in the wrong direction with this restriction to end the prejudice against all races and groups.” Shishir Poreddy, 17, Rising Senior at Urbana High School, Urbana, Maryland
“These newly placed restrictions of Islamic wear in Europe conflict with fundamental values of humans, and will regress European social growth and development. Not only do they neglect the beliefs of Islam, but these Nations also broadcast their Islamophobic beliefs to the world. Citizens will believe that it is acceptable to disrespect Muslims when Governments promote this behavior. It is disappointing to see such powerful, influential, and developed nations take wrongful action and violate human rights. This will drastically affect the daily life of Muslim women as they will be more susceptible to race/religion-based hate crimes, they will feel uncomfortable when they are surrounded by those who neglect their beliefs, and this will force them to choose between their religion and the law. Islamic wear is a part of Muslims’ identity, and to take it away from them is to promote religious inequality. These restrictions are unacceptable and place Muslims in an unjust and difficult situation.” Avyay Potterlanka, 17, Rising Senior at Urbana High School, Urbana, Maryland

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